Lily Kaufman '12 brings a new Robin Hood to the stage
By Anna-Maria Goossens | Tuesday, January 11, 2022
By Anna-Maria Goossens
Tuesday, January 11, 2022
For the Arts Administration graduate program she’s enrolled in at Boston University, Lily Kaufman ‘12 had to assemble an imaginary Broadway musical production.
However, she realized, “I can't really connect to something that I'm not really doing.”
That desire to put her knowledge to a real-world test has resulted in a new, folk-and-Americana-inflected musical take on the Robin Hood story, Robin B. Goode and the Ballad of Badger Flats, which opens at Chelsea Theatre Works on January 21. Kaufman is both the producer and star, and while she once focused on acting, she now foresees a career shift into producing or artistic direction, whether as part of a larger organization or at the helm of her own company.
“I still have a pretty active career in acting but my soul isn't completely satisfied by that. I like putting together moving parts, I like knowing how to combine the best people to make the best production. I need to have my hand in the business of theater to be who I want to be and to feel satisfied with my work,” Kaufman said.
This production is a testament to connections made at UMass while Kaufman was a theater major here, as a friend became a collaborator and a position in props has helped her manage the production process.
A new version of an old story
Robin B. Goode was written by UMass English Department alum Peter Storey, a friend of Kaufman’s since her time as a student. “He’s unbelievably out of this world as a poet,” she said. She originally reached out to him to see if he might be interested in creating an adaptation of the story of Calypso from The Odyssey for her to produce and act in.
The piece never gelled, so Kaufman asked him if he had any other ideas percolating, and he told her, “I want to write a story about a female Robin Hood.” Robin B. Goode is set circa 2010 and follows combat veteran Robin, played by Kaufman. Robin returns from Afghanistan disillusioned and traumatized by her experiences and lacking hope for her future. At Robin's wedding to Maggie Ann, Robin is falsely accused by Governor John and the more openly nefarious Park County Sheriff of treason. As a veteran who 'bled for this country', to be met with this false accusation "is ultimately what makes her snap," Kaufman said, and embark on her anti-capitalist crusade. Joining her is an updated version of the Merry Band: for example, Juanito (Little John in the original) and Red Billy (Will Scarlett, now a woman). Robin’s engaged to Maggie Ann, aka Maid Marian.
“It's no surprise that she came back angry,” Kaufman said of Robin. “She came back unsupported and she came back ready to do unspeakable things — because she already has.”
As Robin lies, gravely injured and dying, in a hospital, audience members learn through a series of flashbacks how the Merry Band was assembled, and how Robin came by her injuries through the group’s criminal capers. A ‘Nurse Ratched’ character represents the authorities who come after Robin.
The piece is scored by musician Jeremy Van Cleave. Originally, the intent had been to focus just on folk music, but Van Cleave diversified to use Americana and rock as well, all played by a five-person band.
Kaufman predicts the play will resonate with fellow millennials, saddled with a terrible economy while multi-billionaires flourish, as well as with folks who’ve never had the chance to explore their potential.
A new direction
Post-graduation, Kaufman was acting professionally in the Boston area, but when COVID shut down her industry, it was BU’s Performing Arts Enterprise certificate that intrigued her.
“I'm getting a master's in Arts Administration but I've got an Advanced Graduate Certificate in what's called Performing Arts Enterprise, which is basically studying the business of commercial theater using Broadway as a model,” Kaufman explained.
Offered in partnership with Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment (run by Bob Nederlander, who is part of the famous Broadway-connected family) this graduate certificate takes students through four courses and an internship, and was, for Kaufman, “absolutely life-changing.” She studies marketing, fundraising, programming, etc.; is working with a production company that has a large-scale new touring production in the works; and has access to the network of industry professionals connected to Nederlander and the program, that will help her as she makes her way into commercial theater.
Meanwhile, she’s applying her classroom learning in real time. (Kaufman volunteered that she agreed to this interview in part because she’s eager to practice pitching her ideas to the wider world.)
Kaufman has a professional connection to Apollinaire Theater; she was nominated for an Elliott Norton Award for her pre-shutdown performance in Cry It Out with the company in 2020. She learned about Apollinaire’s Chelsea Theatre Works Resident Artist program, which gives artists a slot in the company’s black box, access to its shops and lighting package, and other resources to put up new work. As Kaufman put it, “I happened to read about that as I was doing this fake production in school, and I said, ‘Why don't I try to make this actually happen?’”
One of her biggest challenges has been to balance her two roles, running meetings and taking care of details like ticketing while learning lines. Kaufman hired director Cameron Gosselin, whom she calls "amazing and incredibly talented" and who has allowed her to be more involved in creative decisions than is typical of an actor. In meetings, meanwhile, she’s worked hard to be clear about her motivations. “It's about trying to not only find out when my producer hat needs to be on and when my actor hat needs to be on, but how to effectively communicate that to other people,” she said.
An advisor who’s still helping
Kaufman credits her UMass Theater advisor, Technical Director Michael Cottom, for giving her an opportunity that helped prepare her for this project.
Kaufman had a hard time when came to the theater major. She joined late, as a junior, and “was just super intimidated” because her peers already had established their own communities within the department. She was also struggling in school with then-undiagnosed ADHD. She had a class with Cottom, and even though she was focused on acting, he offered to be her advisor.
“Michael said, ‘you know what, you're an absolute banana and you need something to focus you, I’m going to teach you how to build props’,” Kaufman recalled. She started building props for the mainstage shows, which helped her land props jobs at Boston Lyric Opera and other companies — but that wasn’t even the most important effect of Cottom’s mentorship.
Being the prop artisan, Kaufman said, “got me in production meetings with all of the faculty… who have all worked professionally and have a very, very solid understanding of how the process needs to go,” she said. She spoke relatively little during those meetings and instead studied the examples being set by others in the room. Now, in her own production meetings, “I know exactly what I'm looking for, exactly what every department needs.”
Robin B. Goode and the Ballad of Badger Flats runs in-person Jan. 21-23 and 27-29 at Chelsea Theatre Works in Chelsea, MA, with a livestream Jan. 28 that will also be viewable on demand.
Join the Facebook group: https://fb.me/e/2TezG7BHX
Get tickets to the in-person or livestreamed performances: https://robinbgoodetickets.eventbrite.com